Democracy is the system of governance in which marginalized people are most likely to thrive, but as public trust in our electoral system weakens, our most vulnerable populations are at risk of being affected most.
We need a system-wide solution to a system in crisis. That solution is increasing voter turnout, but we’re facing an uphill challenge since the United States has low voter turnout relative to almost all other developed nations with democratically elected leadership.
While there is no silver bullet or no magical technology to deploy, there are battle-tested, scalable tactics that can be used in precise locations with predictable and significant impact. Flooding our elections with confident voters who know how and where to vote is essential to combating confusion. We will do that by giving voters accurate and omnipresent information about how and when to vote. Our strategy hinges around a simple concept: To increase voter turnout, voters should encounter voting messages they trust, and they should encounter those messages everywhere.
VoteAmerica holds that whether or not you vote is determined largely by your environment. If partisan groups engage heavily with your community, you are more likely to vote. If you have time off to vote, you are more likely to cast a ballot. If you know when to vote, where to vote, and what to do when you get there, you are more likely to have your vote counted. But if you’re young, or low income, or a person of color (POC), you are more likely to face obstacles to voting. That’s where we come in.
Our materials will more closely resemble the messaging and language of a public utility -- a reliable, regular element of daily life with which any audience can easily engage. While all voters can benefit from our work, we plan to target historically low propensity voting audiences with informative, trusted advertising campaigns across channels, which our past work has proven to significantly increase turnout.
One way to get this information out is through billboards. Why should we invest in billboards? They are an inexpensive marketing channel. They have low production costs and engage large groups of potential voters multiple times. Billboards can also amplify other outreach efforts. On the ground field work and face-to-face conversations are the gold-standard for voter outreach, but they can be expensive and difficult to scale, and are limited now due to COVID. Billboards allow us to ensure that almost every voter is aware that elections are coming, including those voters who we can’t reach through face-to-face outreach.
We know this will work because we’ve already done it. During the Alabama Senate Election in December 2017, we bought 140 billboards in the “Black Belt” of Alabama and produced an estimated 70 million impressions. Anecdotally, ground groups told us that the billboards were “everywhere,” and they hadn’t met anyone who didn’t know the election was coming. What were the results? Record high turnout during an off-year election in December, particularly in precincts with high numbers of low-propensity voters that were targeted by our non-partisan billboards. Get Out The Vote works, and it can make all the difference in a close election.
The average billboard costs just $2,500 for two weeks, and our past research suggests that two weeks is all we need. Right now we’re working to buy billboards in census tracts that are at least 60% POC. We’re also focused on other OOH (out of home) inventory, such as gas stations, supermarkets, and transit ads. The designs will be simple and the non-billboard ads will also include information about early voting and EDR (election day registration).
The non-billboard OOH costs $800 for two full weeks. Putting it all together, here are some sample budgets:
- Arizona: 120 units, 36 million views, $240,000
- Florida: 454 units, 129 million views, $1.5 million
- Georgia: 791 units, 103 million views, $1.3 million
- Michigan: 367 units, 72 million views, $215,000
- North Carolina: 638 units, 49 million views, $860,000
- Texas: 550 units, 185 million views, $2.2 million
But we are running out of time to buy inventory. The amount of available inventory has dropped by 50% in the past two weeks in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.
How donors can help engage and turnout voters this election cycle: